Habitable homes a basic human right

OPINION: 

The revelations in recent days that two people's deaths have been linked back to the condition of their housing has reignited debate around the quality of rental accommodation in New Zealand.

Toddler Emma-Lita Bourne died of a brain haemorrhage in August 2014, a coroner found this could partly be blamed on the poor condition of the state house she lived in.

Her family had been given a heater but could not afford to run it.

Soesa Tovo, a father of six, died on August 15 last year despite his doctors and the district health board making numerous requests that he be moved from his Papakura HNZ home.

The 37 year old was being treated for heart and lung problems as well as pneumonia and had been admitted to hospital.

Both cases occurred in HNZ properties, but plenty of private rentals are not up to standard either.

The front page of this edition of the paper tells the story of Manawatu people who have to choose between running heaters to give their children a warm house and being able to put food on the table.

Single mother Kelly Hancock runs two gas heaters in her Milson rental property every night, but her children are cold and their blankets wet. Every day she tries to dry out her children's bedding in time for the following night.

How is that acceptable in 2015?

The National Government is slowly coming around to the realisation that something needs to be done. Yes the Government has been proactive in running a programme to help insulate homes, but more needs to be done.

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A rental warrant of fitness scheme seems a logical step. National won't go this far, says Housing Minister Nick Smith, but minimum standards for rentals will be introduced, such as insulation and smoke alarms.

While such moves would have an upfront cost to the Government in terms of enforcement there will be long-term savings in the prevention of illnesses linked to poor housing such as respiratory ailments.

It's easy for opponents of such a plan to blame the tenant, and some will, using lines like if the house is so bad don't live there.

But not everyone has the luxury to be choosey with their accommodation.

There is no shortage of tenants when it's so difficult to get amongst the ranks of home owners, thanks to price increases and the 20 per cent deposits generally needed for mortgages, so landlords can afford, economically at least, to provide substandard housing to the market.

Whether they can do that morally is a matter for their own conscious. Surely access to habitable housing is a basic human right. It's certainly not right that people should be expected to live in housing that ends up killing them.

 - Manawatu Standard

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